By Kristina Houck
After performing before sold out crowds earlier this year, French-born actor Jean-Michel Richaud is returning to star in Leonard Nimoy’s “Vincent” for a third time at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.
“Every time we’ve been here, the show has sold out,” said 42-year-old Richaud. “I’m excited to be back!”
Directed by Paul Stein, “Vincent” takes place shortly after Vincent Van Gogh’s death and focuses on the artist’s life in an imaginary tribute by his brother, Theo.
Growing up in Paris, Richaud became fascinated by Van Gogh after first seeing his paintings at the Musée d’Orsay. The Los Angeles-based actor wasn’t too familiar with the artist’s writing, however, until his wife gave him a collection of Van Gogh’s letters to his brother.
“It changed my life,” Richaud said. “It’s beautiful. They’re very intimate, very enjoyable to read. I was very moved. I needed to do something as an artist.”
Looking for a way to bring Van Gogh’s life to the stage, Richaud discovered Nimoy’s play, which is inspired by “The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh.”
The drama begins a few days after Van Gogh’s death, as rumors of his death are flying around Paris. His brother, Theo, tells his own version of the story in an attempt to set the record straight.
“It’s a very funny play, but it’s also cathartic,” Richaud said. “I love it when people come up to me after the show and tell me what the play made them think of. A lot of times, it’s about a loss in the family and how they had to cope. The play deals with so many things that people go through.”
Richaud portrays both brothers in the one-man show, which originally opened in Los Angeles in October 2012 and ran for 14 weeks. He has also performed “Vincent” in New York and toured France with the production.
“It’s nerve-wracking. It’s exciting. It’s exhilarating,” said Richaud, who noted more than 100 pieces of Van Gogh’s paintings are digitally displayed in a framed screen on stage throughout sections of the play. “It was pretty scary the first few nights. I kept looking at the door thinking, ‘Maybe if I sneak out they won’t notice.’”
An actor since he was 12 years old, Richaud studied theater at Paris’s National Conservatory and Columbia University. Although he has appeared in a number of films and television shows, and is a founding member of the theater company, The Next Arena, Richaud described starring in “Vincent” as a “one-of-a-kind experience.”
“You won’t ever look at a Van Gogh piece the same way,” he said. “You’ll see Vincent’s way of looking at the world with love. It’s a very moving and educational experience.”
“Vincent” will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Dr., Solana Beach.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.northcoastrep.org.